New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and prominent tech leaders have launched a new endeavor to shape immigration reform in the United States. Called “March for Innovation“, it’s goal is to make sure that Congress pays attention to the needs of entrepreneurs and the tech industry, as well as understand how technology can lead the charge to help get it passed.

The initiative is backed by a bevy of notable figures from the tech industry, including the Foundry Group’s Brad Feld, Greylock Partners and former CEO of Mozilla John Lilly, Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, Y Combinator’s Paul Graham, venture capitalist Mike Maples, Sherpa Foundry’s co-CEO Shervin Pishevar, Gilt Groupe founder and CEO Kevin Ryan, Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson, and 500 Startups’ Dave McClure.

Partnership for a New American Economy

michael bloomberg Silicon Valley and NYC Mayor Bloomberg launch ‘March for Innovation’ to help reform US immigration

Several years ago, Mayor Bloomberg got together with News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, the CEOs of Disney, Marriott, Boeing, and other companies to discuss the issue about immigration reform. Also included in the discussion were majors from prominent US cities. The result was the formation of a new organization called the Partnership for a New American Economy.

Now, the group counts more than 500 CEOs and mayors from 50 states, representing more than 35 million people nationwide, who are working to help make the economic case for immigration reform.

Silicon Valley supports immigration reform

Immigration reform is definitely not something the tech industry and Silicon Valley have shied away from. Since 2009, the community has been trying to get Congress to pass the Startup Visa act, which would create a visa category for foreign entrepreneurs who have raised capital from qualified American investors to come into the country and start their business.

Many of the same people supporting the March for Innovation today have backed the Startup Visa, which still has not passed Congress, although President Obama has indicated that he supports the bill.

The tech industry is also not afraid of confronting the country’s leaders when a potentially damaging law comes up for debate. One need only looks at the battles that were waged against SOPA/PIPA in 2011 and 2012 and the movement to seek passage of the Jobs Act.

Mayor Bloomberg has also not been a stranger to pushing immigration reform. In 2011, he gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations where he spoke about the essential role of immigrants in America’s economic growth and called for Washington to put aside its partisan politics and pass much needed reforms in order to create jobs and fuel economic growth.

His proposal entails:

…green cards for graduates with advanced degrees in essential fields; a new visa for entrepreneurs with investors ready to invest capital in their job-creating idea; more temporary and permanent visas for highly skilled workers; guest-worker programs to ensure agriculture and other key sectors can thrive; and a revaluation of visa priorities that places a focus on the nation’s economic needs.

Snap 2013 02 24 at 19.47.52 730x324 Silicon Valley and NYC Mayor Bloomberg launch ‘March for Innovation’ to help reform US immigration

The March for Innovation

From all the discussions with various groups, the tech community and Mayor Bloomberg decided to move forward and help persuade members of Congress to back reform that would make it easier for entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, and others to come into the country legally and contribute to the country’s economy.

We spoke with Jeremy Robbins, Director of the Partnership for a New American Economy operating out of Mayor Bloomberg’s office, who tells us that the organization’s goal is two-fold. First, as immigration reform is being discussed by Congress, it would like to play a roll in affecting how it will impact the tech industry. Secondly, as the bill moves through both chambers, it will show how technology can be used to help get it passed.

Snap 2013 02 24 at 20.09.24 730x508 Silicon Valley and NYC Mayor Bloomberg launch ‘March for Innovation’ to help reform US immigration

Right now, the March for Innovation website operates as a campaign site built through NationBuilder, a community organizing system. The aim is to amass an army of supporters who will be able to act when the moment arises. Once a bill has been formed and begins moving through Congress (some expect it to happen in April), this virtual march will begin to take place — the website will convert into a place where supporters can contact their Senators and Representatives to convince them to support the bill.

Virtual is better than physical

We all know the impact of virtual demonstrations and how it can help sway the way governments and corporations respond — just look at SOPA/PIPA with what Tumblr and Wikipedia did.

Robbins says that with a virtual march, it’s much easier to coordinate actions — because potential external factors could sway the legislative calendar, doing something virtually will enable a demonstration to occur without requiring a lot of time and resources.

Principles

It’s said that right now, Congress is working to come up with a broad reform bill to fix America’s broken immigration system. For people like Mayor Bloomberg, making sure that it has the right language in it matters since any result could have a big impact on his city, as well as many others, including those in Silicon Valley.

To that end, the March to Innovation has established four principles it would like the immigration bill to address:

  • Drive new business creation by providing visas to entrepreneurs to those who wish to start businesses and create jobs
  • Attract and retain highly-skilled workers needed by the US economy by creating a “viable pathway” for them to come over when companies need them
  • Power the innovation economy by granting permanent residency to the world’s leading graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math
  • Seize the moment and reform the US laws, which haven’t been updated since 1965

Organization co-chair Somesh Dash of Institutional Venture Partners says:

Of late, the United States has been turning away many of the innovators and entrepreneurs who are likely to propel us to new economic heights. We can no longer afford to operate under a system that has not seen major reform over the past few decades. Tech leaders and workers throughout the nation are coming together to rally around the need for significant change to our current immigration system. Our country’s leaders must follow suit

March for Innovation

Main header image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images